Let loving curiosity connect you to the world around you!
Discerning what is loving and what is nosy.
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TW: Mentions of ableism & ableist behavior.
Curiosity can sometimes feel scary, especially in relation to loving ourselves and others. I have a strange relationship with curiosity, especially when it comes to discerning what is “loving” curiosity and what could be considered “nosy” curiosity in regard to how others engage with me. When I started elementary school, it was common for me to receive a “nosy” curiosity from others and that trend has continued the older I’ve gotten. Part of that I think sometimes stems from the fact I grew up in a small southern town where people couldn’t necessarily mind their own business but I also feel that the “nosy” curiosity showed up due to my own craniofacial differences. I felt like I was on display a lot due to that. I share this to say that not all curiosity, is loving. Sometimes we may be curious to stroke our egos, or to prove ourselves “right.” I have definitely acted out of curiosity to just prove something before. I’ve been working toward moving away from ego-based curiosity or just assuming everybody is being maliciously curious. Being in a Disabled and Non-binary body tends to attract nosy curiosity. It’s strange because loving curiosity got me to understand I am Non-binary, it gets me to continue to investigate what my Disabled body needs to make things more accessible for me.
Earlier this year, I read an article written by Devon Price called “Laziness Does Not Exist.”
In the article, Price states “It’s really helpful to respond to a person’s ineffective behavior with curiosity rather than judgment. I learned this from a friend of mine, the writer and activist Kimberly Longhofer (who publishes under the name Mik Everett)…. when you don’t fully understand a person’s context — what it feels like to be them every day, all the small annoyances and major traumas that define their life — it’s easy to impose abstract, rigid expectations on a person’s behavior… If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context. It’s that simple. I’m so grateful to Kim and their writing for making me aware of this fact.”
This quote and his sentiments about curiosity really started to get my wheels turning and they’ve been reverberating in my heart ever since the moment I read it. It really awakened in me an understanding that curiosity isn’t just nosiness, it can be a genuine act of loving and can be a connector. I think back to when I was a toddler, during times when I had moments away from doctor’s visits and surgeries. I was lovingly curious. As I grew older going into elementary school I noticed more judgment creeping into the picture. I saw that loving curiosity got sabotaged by nosiness. The more I and other kids were influenced by people’s judgments, the more I felt loving curiosity fading away.
I have shared this story before, but I feel like it’s a prime example of what nosy curiosity is and the complexities behind it. Sometimes “nosy” curiosity can be disguised as “loving” until it reveals itself not to be. While I grew up in a beach area as a teenager, I’d often sneak into hotel pools because I didn’t want to mess with the sand. (I know, so bratty of me.) One afternoon I was out in the pool with a friend, with my hearing aid off, since my devices aren’t waterproof. My friend was nearby me in the pool when this man came up to us. I saw my friend talking to him, as she motioned me to come over. I was a little confused. In High School, I was really starting to learn more about the syndrome I had and started to understand it a little bit more despite it being fairly rare diagnosis-wise. I could read her lips telling the man I was deaf, asking him to speak up. So he did.
”I know of this great camp for the mentally retarded that you should go to!” I didn’t know what to say. I was a little confused because here was a grown adult being as nosy as people my age and younger, were being. It was my first instance of realizing that I would have grown adults acting this way. So I just informed him of the syndrome that I do have and told him I didn’t have Downs-syndrome. He looked at me as if he were just examining my face, rolled his eyes, and walked away. No sort of apology for misunderstanding or anything. What it felt like, to me, was that once I didn’t give him the answer that catered to his liking, or the gratitude for his misunderstanding, he didn’t want to take the time to actually get to know what I had and what that was all about. I run into this often, where strangers try to “help” me but they actually don’t. They then just get upset that I couldn’t take their “help.”
To me, a loving curiosity asks us to examine our relationships with others and ourselves by not shying away from really difficult questions & conversations to help us love one another on a deeper level. This is something I am currently learning how to be better at because for a long time I was afraid to be in loving curiosity, I was afraid to ask these questions - especially when it came to examining my own relationships with others. When I started reckoning with the lack of knowing what it was truly like to be in my physical body after decades of dissociation, part of this process has been to not shy away from being lovingly curious.
I was having breakfast with my friend Graham the other day who was talking to me about him reading Marianne Williamson’s “Return to Love.” It’s a book I read a while ago and in revisiting it after his mentioning of the book, this quote really stuck out to me: “It takes courage...to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” In the book, she talks a lot about how fear doesn’t help love. A therapist I had once told me “you can either live in love or live in fear.” Hell, I made a piece of art about allowing love to be louder than fear, and yet I haven’t always fully embodied that mentality even after sharing that sentiment. It’s a mentality I am still trying to practice and it’s one I really have to try to be conscious of.
Not shying away from loving curiosity means I have to be more honest with myself, more honest with others, and softer instead of just trying to guard my feelings whether they are deeply insecure, bitter, afraid, or lonely. I’m learning that when we genuinely ask ourselves tough questions about our relationships and our actions in those relationships both within our own self-reflection and active reflections with our loved ones, the tough conversations have the potential to create stronger resolutions. That’s easier to say than to actually practice, though.
I’m trying to practice loving curiosity not only in getting to know myself more and continuing to get to know my loved ones but also when I get approached by potential “nosy” curiosity scenarios. It can feel hard to discern when I want to be lovingly curious about someone being invasive about my syndrome and Disability. Why even be lovingly curious about somebody else’s nosiness? For a long time, I was pretty confrontational with others when it came to receiving such invasive questions. I see that as trying to protect my being. Living in a Disabled body is tough as hell and that toughness isn’t always just the internal factors of being in my body but the external factors when it comes to other people’s reactions to my being. Nosy curiosity has been prevalent in strangers who are just trying to figure me out or “save” my day (much like the experience at the pool mentioned earlier.)
I have been getting coffee at a space regularly these last few months and I usually go sit outside of the shop to write in my journal while drinking my coffee. Another customer who frequents there, who doesn’t know my name and hadn’t engaged with me before, came up to me one day and asked “didn’t you used to be in a wheelchair?”
Here was, what felt to me, to be nosy curiosity. Based on my own past experiences, I’ve had strangers try to diagnose me without getting to know myself first. It’s always an uncomfortable experience. It didn’t make me uncomfortable that she assumed I had been in a wheelchair, it never makes me uncomfortable when someone misunderstands my syndrome, what makes me uncomfortable is when strangers just show up abruptly with questions about why I am the way I am, without simply just trying to get to know who I am internally first. I breathed and just responded softly with a simple “no, I hadn’t been in a wheelchair before.”
I’ve been really having to pick and choose my battles when it comes to how I react to encounters like this. I don’t always want to be an advocate for myself. Sometimes I just want coffee, a meal, time with a loved one, a moment to enjoy nature, to simply get my grocery shopping done. I wasn’t born an advocate for myself, I don’t feel any of us are. I think in the past I have been so on the defensive when it came to navigating a moment like this. It takes work to try not to be. People misconstrue Disability narratives, people sometimes exploit Disabled bodies for their own morality boost, and some folks aren’t fully accessible nor do they take the time to be. These are just a few things I have experienced being out in the world and that won’t change. I’m trying to dissolve the bitterness, while also still speaking up about injustices and standing up for my being. In a moment where I would’ve acted out of pure projection, I chose to just observe how the conversation would unfold and to see if I could just get back into my own morning ritual of journaling & having coffee outside.
“Oh, good for you!” was her response in regard to me not using a wheelchair. Implying being in a wheelchair as a being a “bad” thing. She proceeded to try to make up for her mistake by saying some more ableist things and ultimately infantilizing me before dashing off. I was speechless and anxious. I took time to write and reflect on it in my journal. I was conflicted. Did I make the right decision to not just call her in about what she was saying?
I would continue to go to the coffee shop for several weeks and I would continue to see her. She’d greet me as if she knew me. I would just respond with a simple smile and nod. I kept going back to my uncomfortability. I wanted to just journal, have my coffee, and start my day off peacefully. I then realized that if I feel unsafe in a space, that is when I should try to cultivate loving curiosity to clear the air and hopefully recreate safety.
One morning as I was writing, I saw her and asked if she had some time to talk. She did, so we sat outside together. I shared with her that I had felt really uncomfortable with her exchange with me a few weeks back. I shared with her other interactions I had had with strangers. I told her that I wasn’t trying to shame her, but also communicated how receiving questions like that could potentially make somebody feel unsafe, especially from a stranger. She told me, “I hadn’t really thought about that honestly and I am sorry. What can I do when I am wondering about somebody’s Disability?”
“Get to know their name first?” was my response. So we exchanged names. We had an uncomfortable conversation and I could still see bits of ableism in this person, to which I acknowledged I can’t be the one to teach them everything because our systems are so deeply rooted in ableism and my own capacity was fairly slim. Our conversation lasted for an hour before we both moved on with our day. I still frequent the coffee shop and I still see this woman around. It’s taking me time to rebuild safety but I can see the positive impacts of my conversation with her in our interactions together.
I am unraveling so much as I unfold how unconscious I had been in my body. My practice of being lovingly curious will more than likely continue to change as I continue to move through this life, based on what I learn and the mistakes I make. I am trying though, to be in this practice even if it isn’t the most comfortable thing to do.
Four things for you!
I have been reading Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s “The Future Is Disabled: Prophecies, Love Notes and Mourning Songs,” which I got from the Charis Books booth during Atlanta Pride the other week and there’s SO much in this book that is resonating deeply with me. Please get this book if you have the means to do so!
It’s getting colder in Atlanta, so our houseless neighbors will be in increasing danger. Sol Underground is helping our neighbors during this time, please consider giving them funds they also have so many volunteer opportunities to work with them as well, to help our community.
Really continuing to appreciate Imani Barbarin’s advocacy for the Disability community.
The UA Disability Cultural Center is holding a series of virtual workshops called “Ableism 101,” you can register for these workshops here. The Instagram post below has image descriptions and further details. The first workshop has already passed since I have kept this draft open in my Substack for a bit, but please consider checking out their other workshops!A post shared by UA Disability Cultural Center (@uadisabilityculture)
The other weekend was Pride weekend in Atlanta and in honor of that, I was commissioned by Atlanta-based coffee spot FiNCA to FiLTER to design a T-shirt & sweatshirt for them! I loved being able to collaborate with a Queer-owned business here in Atlanta and it was a joy designing this. You can purchase T-shirts & sweatshirts here.
Speaking of merchandise, I have temporarily closed my online shop as I reevaluate some things in terms of production, pricing, and how I move forward with selling my work. The shop will be back soon but in the meantime, if you wish to commission something from me for 2023, please send me an email! While prints & other merch are not currently available, you can purchase these greeting cards I created for “Em & Friends.”
As always, thank you so much for taking the time to read my newsletter and I look forward to sharing things with you soon! Please feel free to comment on this post and to share anything that connected with you, to a loved one, or on social media if you wish to do so. I hope that you are staying safe and well. <3
I loved this!